Is­raeli Si­nol­o­gist stud­ies China through an­cient thoughts

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE BOOKS - By XING YI xingyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

How Is­raeli Si­nol­o­gist Yuri Pines got into Chi­nese stud­ies is the stuff of movies: His ini­tial un­der­stand­ing of China was dif­fer­ent, but he de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy while in prison near Haifa, Is­rael. And, his early read­ings on China were in Rus­sian.

Some 30 years since Pines first started to learnChi­nese, he is still delv­ing into an­cient Chi­nese po­lit­i­cal thoughts, which he thinks are im­mensely rich and could help the world to be­come more plu­ral­is­tic and en­gag­ing.

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1964, Pines grew up in the for­mer Soviet Union at a time when ties be­tween China and the Soviet had de­te­ri­o­rated.

Henowteaches atHe­brew Uni­ver­sity of Jerusalem.

“In my early ed­u­ca­tion, China was an en­emy — a threat to the Soviet Union,” re­calls Pines.

“ButwhenI­cameto Is­rael, no­body was in­ter­ested in China,” says Pines, who mi­grated to Is­rael when he was 15. “Peo­ple didn’t pay at­ten­tion to China, and maybe, Asia at all.”

It was a co­in­ci­dence that sparked Pines’ in­ter­est in China.

In the early 1980s, Pines, like most adults in his adopted coun­try, was con­scripted into the army but his re­fusal to serve in theWest Bank led him to an Is­raeli mil­i­tary pris­on­where­hes­pentsix­months.

There, among the de­tainees, he met some­one who had stud­ied Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy and talked about it with Pines. That aroused Pines’ cu­rios­ity.

After be­ing re­leased, Pines went to a li­brary to bor­row book­sonChi­nese phi­los­o­phy.

Pines re­calls he didn’t find books in­He­bre­waboutChina at the time, so he bor­rowed some books in Rus­sian and read them in a fewweeks.

“It’s a great feel­ing when you dis­cover a new world,” says Pines. “It’s so in­ter­est­ing, so dif­fer­ent, and so deep. I said, ‘I must study it.’”

In the end, those Rus­sian books on China led Pines to the department of East Asian stud­ies at He­brew Uni­ver­sity in 1985.

There were few peo­ple who stud­ied Chi­nese in Is­rael in the 1980s. Since 1992, when China and Is­rael es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions, the num­ber of Is­raeli peo­ple in­ter­ested in China has risen sig­nif­i­cantly.

Dur­ing the early ’90s, Pines used his Chi­nese lan­guage skills to work as a part-time tour guide, brin­ing tourist groups to China twice a year. And ev­ery time he trav­eled from China, his lug­gage had a few more books from the coun­try.

“I would take tourists to Nan­jing Road in Shang­hai, and let them to buy what­ever they wanted. I would then run to the book­stores on the next street,” says Pines. “I had only one hour formy­self.”

After eight years of study­ing China, Pines gained a mas­ter’s de­gree in 1994 and came to study atNankaiUniver­sity in­Tian­ji­nonagov­ern­men­tal ex­change pro­gram.

Pines stayed for one year in the north­ern city. Since he was in­ter­ested in an­cient Chi­nese po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, he stud­ied with renowned his­to­rian Liu Ze­hua. The his­tory Pines stud­ied was of the War­ring States Pe­riod (475221 BC), when dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies flour­ished.

A pop­u­lar Chi­nese idiom — the con­tention of 100 schools of thought — de­scribes the lively ideas of Con­fu­cian­ism, Tao­ism, the School of Lawand so on.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to study how those Chi­nese thinkers tried to re­solve prob­lems fac­ing the dif­fer­ent states,” says Pines. “Though no so­lu­tion was ideal, all the so­lu­tions to­gether pro­vided op­tions for fu­ture rulers to de­ploy.”

In 1998, Pines fin­ished his PhD in East Asian stud­ies at He­brew Uni­ver­sity and has been teach­ing there since. He has au­thored sev­eral books onChi­nese his­to­ryand­po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy in He­brew and English, and plans to write one in Chi­nese.

His most re­cent English mono­graph, The Ever­last­ing Em­pire: Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Po­lit­i­cal Cul­ture and Its En­dur­ing Legacy, was pub­lished in 2012 by Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press.

His new­work, The Book of Lord Shang: Apolo­get­ics of State Power in Early China, is ex­pected to be pub­lished early next year.

“I was once a be­liever that there is a good so­lu­tion for ev­ery­thing, but now I re­al­ize there’s no one uni­ver­sal so­lu­tion for ev­ery­thing, just like we can­not eat the same food all the time,” says Pines. “This is the most im­por­tant les­son Chi­nese philoso­phies of­fer to the world.”

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